Southwark Council’s Rise platform

What was the problem?

One of 33 boroughs in London, Southwark Council provides a multitude of services to over 250 000 residents. Southwark wanted a way to connect policy-making with the everyday lives of families in the borough, to ensure that they were as effective and sustainable as they could be, making a real difference in people’s lives. Therefore, Southwark asked service designers at Engine to work with them to set up a platform which would support a customer-centric, multi-discipline and cross-service way of working. For this, Engine and Southwark created Southwark Rise, a platform to bring together residents and policy-makers to meet social challenges.

What did they do?

To address the breadth of the challenge, Engine began by identifying and growing a project network of individuals, groups and organisations, involving over 70 people working together and being connected to the design process. The designers worked with a core team of policy strategists to define a process to transfer skills and knowledge across the council, enabling it to build a more complete picture of the complex lives of families living with economic hardships, and to focus on how they identify and act on opportunities to support their residents. This became the basis of the Rise platform development which we tested through two specific areas and service developments: the challenges of childhood obesity, and of creating better life chances for children from deprived backgrounds.

To explore the challenges of childhood obesity and deprived backgrounds, the designers worked with a team of managers and policy staff from across different services to define key research areas. We decided to explore complexity through the lens of families, to help understand priorities, value systems, and motivations and barriers to getting support.

The designers used an ethnographic approach to support this approach, studying eight families in the borough with focus on the interrelated topics of employment, health, community, faith, and relationships. This qualitative approach encouraged open and natural dialogue and enabled us to explore the families’ day-to-day lives through the use of comfortable, home environments. We used informal tools and materials to draw out participants’ perceptions of support, their mind-sets towards staff and services, and their thoughts on sensitive or complicated issues inherent to health and family.

Engine used the insights revealed through design research to support the generation of preventative health services that could support Southwark families to address the challenges of childhood obesity. We ran a series of collaborative design workshops with the project network and parents and frontline council staff. We used a range of design activities to encourage team members to consider problems as opportunities, and to generate service ideas that involved new partnerships and approaches. These included ideal service experiences and considerations for new and existing touchpoints.

What were the results?

Engine developed and refined the ideas, which emerged as an overarching concept of shifting emphasis from support by healthcare professionals to enabling residents to support themselves. This included a suite of tools and approaches to enable the exchange of information and experiences, tailored solutions through resident resources around organising, managing and delivering services and the creation of new, combined and informal service roles.

These insights provided the basis of Southwark Council and the Southwark Alliance’s new work programme, demonstrating the effectiveness of engaging residents and using a platform approach to help citizens participate in delivering their own support and to create sustainable policy.

Engine delivered a comprehensive report that covered the approach, key insights and outcomes of the Rise project, detailing potential next steps for the Council. The report contained details of the concepts developed through exploring childhood obesity and deprived backgrounds, such as collaboration with local fresh food markets, communal activities around healthy eating and community engagement with health champions and food shopping assistants and advisors. Southwark Rise has been taken forward, guiding the council through new infrastructures of understanding and service provision.

Engine’s work on the live projects helped to test and refine the Southwark Rise platform and working approach, building service capability and capacity, and embedding it in the people and organisations across the project network and the council. The Southwark Rise platform provides simple tools and ways of working to understand social challenges, build internal and external alliances and create policies, guiding the council through new infrastructures of understanding and service provision.

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